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What the New FCC Cybersecurity Pilot Program Means for Schools

Jun 17, 2024

3 MINUTE READ

Table of Contents

In June, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to approve the Schools and Libraries Cybersecurity Pilot Program.

This new program will provide $200-million in order to strengthen the cybersecurity posture of schools and libraries across the US, through technology like endpoint protection, firewalls, and authentication tools. It will also collect data on how effective these measures are in safeguarding schools and libraries from cyberattacks.

The application window for schools is expected to open this fall, and the FCC is looking to award funds from the program to schools and libraries from a range of sizes and locales, with a strong focus on low-income and tribal applicants.

What is the Schools and Libraries Cybersecurity Pilot Program?

The FCC’s Schools and Libraries Cybersecurity Pilot Program is a three-year initiative that’s part of a bigger campaign to boost connectivity in schools and libraries and provide students with access to high speed internet. 

Organizations like the American Library Association (ALA) support the program, with the ALA President Emily Drabinksi stating:  “The FCC’s decision today to create a cybersecurity pilot is an important step forward for our nation’s libraries and library workers, too many of whom face escalating costs to secure their institution’s systems and data. We remain steadfast in our call for a long-term funding mechanism that will ensure libraries can continue to offer the access and information their communities rely on.”

Funds for the program will be distributed via the Universal Service Fund (USF), which subsidizes telecommunications for low-income households. The funds will be used to acquire cyber defense tools for schools and libraries. USF has stated that the funds for the cybersecurity pilot program will remain separate to ensure that it does not undermine their E-rate program’s ability to connect schools and libraries and promote digital equity. 

Funds will be allocated according to a per-student, per-library location budget. School budgets have been set at $13.60 per student and libraries at $15,000. The application process will resemble the FCC’s E-rate program, which helps schools and libraries afford internet access. More information about what schools will need to submit for the program can be found in the FCC’s Report and Order document.

According to estimates, the demand for the program could reach as much as $823.4 million if all schools and libraries apply—a clear indication of how pressing the need for adequate cybersecurity funding and protection in schools and libraries are. 

By providing funding for cybersecurity equipment and services, the program aims to strengthen the defenses of educational institutions against cyberattacks like ransomware

Why is the Program Needed?

Schools and libraries hold a significant amount of sensitive data, making them attractive targets. This data can include student information (like social security numbers, health records, and disciplinary records), employee information, financial data related to school funding and library budgets, and even intellectual property owned by the institution.

At the same time, schools and libraries often have limited budgets and IT staff. This can make it difficult for them to invest in robust cybersecurity measures like advanced security software and employee training. Hackers may see these institutions as easier targets compared to heavily fortified corporations.

While some organizations may be more willing to negotiate ransoms, schools and libraries might feel pressured to pay to restore essential services quickly, especially those impacting student learning. Hackers often exploit this urgency.

According to the Government Accountability Office, more than 600,000 K-12 students were impacted by cyber attacks in 2021 alone.  A Comparitech report shows that attacks against educational institutions doubled in the first half of 2023, impacting the records of 6.7 million students across the globe in less than five years, and costing local economies more than $53 billion downtime. Large, well-organized ransomware groups including LockBit, BlackSuit, and Vice Society are actively targeting school systems. 

Looking Ahead

The FCC pilot program is part of a larger trend in the US of the government getting more involved in helping schools defend sensitive student information like social security numbers, health records, and disciplinary records, as well as employee data and intellectual property. 

By implementing even the most basic cybersecurity tools and providing schools with the financial resources to invest in them, disruptions to school operations and library services will likely be reduced. 

Safe and secure access to technology for all students and patrons not only promotes online safety, but data equity, too. If you are interested in learning more about affordable cybersecurity tools that can protect your school, get in touch with Coro today.

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